Drop Top and Roll

It's been a long time coming, but the '05 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible, due in dealerships mid-March, may prove worth the wait. This 4-seater, with the styling and interior flexibility of the original Cruiser, has been well-engineered for open-air motoring. The Chrysler Group stresses the new convertible is not a chop job. The vehicle starts with the conventional PT architecture, but 57% of the

It's been a long time coming, but the '05 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible, due in dealerships mid-March, may prove worth the wait.

This 4-seater, with the styling and interior flexibility of the original Cruiser, has been well-engineered for open-air motoring.

The Chrysler Group stresses the new convertible is not a chop job. The vehicle starts with the conventional PT architecture, but 57% of the body-shell parts are new, unique to the convertible.

Most of the re-engineering focused on a quiet ride and structural stiffness.

Chrysler succeeded in both areas. Driving the blacktop of the Arizona desert near Phoenix, conversation is easy, both top up and top down. The 3-layer soft top consists of a cloth headliner, insulating pad and outer cloth for greater acoustics.

The rear seats are mounted directly to an underbody crossmember to prevent transmission of excess noise through the rear suspension. As a result, there is no real perceptible road noise until speeds hit 100 mph (161 km/h).

Wind is not a problem. The vehicle underwent much wind-tunnel testing to ensure the airflow arcs over the front windshield and is prevented from circling back into the rear passenger compartment by the overhead sport bar.

The PT exhibits none of the chassis wiggling and cowl shake that plagues Chrysler's Sebring convertible. Body stiffness of 4,693 ft.-lbs. (6,363 Nm)/degree of twist, 42,800 lbs.-ins. of bend, and a joint that runs from the front hinge pillar through the hydroformed sill tube and into the B-pillar, make for a solid ride even on rough pavement.

The engine mounts are tuned to use the powertrain as a mass damper to further reduce shake. Body rigidity is increased with a new rear-seat anchor structure.

Use of high-strength steel for the reinforcements keep additional weight of the convertible vs. the sedan to 150 lbs. (68 kg).

The PT is a pretty little number, and the most affordable 4-seat drop-top in the U.S.

The base model starts at $19,995, including a $590 destination fee, and is powered by a 150-hp 2.4L naturally aspirated 4-cyl. inline engine mated to a 5-speed manual transmission.

The power soft top goes down easily with a one-handed release and the press of a button. It takes all of 10 seconds. This version rides on 15-in. steel wheels.

The next step up is the Touring model, with an available 180-hp 2.4L turbocharged engine with automatic transaxle delivering 210 lb.-ft. (285 Nm) of torque.

Starting at $22,900, it has 16-in. painted cast-aluminum wheels, a touring suspension, speed control and a boot cover for the top with molded endcaps to fit the body that has been wind-tested to stay on at speeds of up to 120 mph (193 km/h).

The Touring is expected to account for about half of sales, with the base and GT splitting the rest.

The top-of-the-line GT, at $27,565, offers a standard High Output turbocharged engine pumping out 220 hp and 245 lb.-ft. (332 Nm) of torque — referred to internally as Chrysler's “surrogate V-6.” The engine exhibits no turbo whine or strain, even at 80 mph (129 km/h) in third gear.

It is mated to a 5-speed Getrag manual transaxle with a close ratio that makes shifting fun. The sport-tuned suspension allows for some aggressive cornering.

All in all, this convertible offers a solid, nimble ride without being darty. The side view of the 2-door is particularly attractive, enhanced by separate fender forms connected by a simulated running board, and flared sills. The rear is not as attractive. The square body and high beltline do not marry well with the top.

Interior volume, at 84.3 cu.-ft. (2.4 cu.-m), easily trumps the Volkswagen Beetle at 79.6 cu.-ft. (2.3 cu.-m). The current Ford Mustang convertible offers only 79.0 cu.-ft. (2.2 cu.-m), but the larger '05 Mustang should provide more room than the PT when it goes on sale in the fall.

The convertible is assembled alongside the seven other PT variants at the single-source plant in Toluca, Mexico. It will be sold in more than 30 markets.

While officials won't give projected sales volumes, 2,500 “handraisers” are waiting to place orders.

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